Home to several of the country’s most recognizable monuments, the city of Washington D.C. is a feast for the eyes. This compact city has a wealth of fascinating attractions ranging from historic sites to outdoor recreation. Best of all, the nation’s capital is easy to navigate, so you can get around via biking, walking, or taking the metro. Accordingly, it’s a breeze to see the most popular points of interest when you stay at one of many vacation rentals in Washington D.C. Check out these top 15 things to do during your visit to the nation’s capital.
1. Take a Monument Tour
Some of Washington D.C.’s most popular attractions are its spectacular monuments, and a tour is a great way to pack in multiple sites with minimal stress. A great one-day option is the CitySights hop-on, hop-off bus Monuments Express tour, which runs between 16 different sites. For a fun twist, wait until the sun goes down to see the city’s buildings light up on the Monuments by Moonlight Night Tour from Old Town Trolley Tour.
2. Tour the White House
Wander through some of the most storied hallways in America on a tour of the White House. Be prepared: to take a tour, you must submit a public request to your Member of Congress to receive a spot on a free, self-guided tour. Submit your request as early as three months in advance to secure a spot.
3. Kayak the Potomac River
Get a fantastic view of the city with a paddle down the Potomac River. Head to the Key Bridge Boathouse in Georgetown to rent a kayak from Boating in DC, and set off for a leisurely trip on the calm waters of the river. Lessons are available, and the boathouse also offers guided paddle tours of the city.
4. Bike the National Mall
Explore the massive National Mall and get a workout with a bike rental from the Thompson Boat Center or a Capital Bikeshare station. Pedal around the Mall, making sure to walk your bike through the World War II and Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorials. The National Park Service also offers free ranger-led bike tours; check the online National Mall and Memorial Parks Calendar of Events for dates and times.
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5. Visit the Smithsonian
If museums are your thing, dedicate a full day to exploring the 11 different Smithsonian institutions on the National Mall. Start with the spectacular African American Museum, and move on to see the Spirit of St. Louis at the Air and Space Museum and the mummies at the National Museum of Natural History.
6. See the Animals at the National Zoo
Watch an adorable giant panda at the National Zoo, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution. Located in Rock Creek Park, this excellent zoo features lions, tigers, elephants, and more. One highlight is the O-Line, a suspended cable track above visitors’ heads that allows orangutans to move between the Great Ape House and the Think Tank.
7. Tour Capitol Hill
See the U.S. government in action on a tour of Capitol Hill, which takes you to some of the area’s most exciting historic spots, including the Rotunda and a beautiful 40-column crypt. Reserve a tour online through the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center website, or for a more personal visit, contact the office of your Representative or Senator for a staff-led tour.
8. Visit the Lincoln Memorial
One of the most popular spots in Washington D.C., the majestic Lincoln Memorial draws crowds year round. Wander next to the huge stone columns and into the main room, where a statue of Abraham Lincoln presides over the National Mall. For a true local experience, grab a coffee from Casey’s Coffee and enjoy it on the steps with a view of the Mall.
9. Take a Pedal Boat Around the Tidal Basin
Experience the Tidal Basin, one of D.C.’s most famous bodies of water, aboard a classic pedal boat. Boating in DC rents two-person and four-person boats by the hour, so you can explore at your own pace. For a fun twist, rent a hilarious swan boat. The Tidal Basin is particularly beautiful in the spring, when colorful cherry blossoms line the shore.
10. Watch a Nationals Game
Relax with a beer and a pretzel at a Washington Nationals baseball game. Home games happen at the spacious, modern Nationals Park, which features a huge selection of restaurants and excellent views. Be sure to check for special deals during your visit, such as family tickets that include a ballpark meal.
11. See a Show at Ford’s Theatre
Experience Washington D.C. culture and history at Ford’s Theatre, the site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. This historic spot hosts numerous performances throughout the year, ranging from classic plays to family-friendly musicals. Be sure to stop in at the onsite museum to learn about Lincoln’s life and the aftermath of his death.
12. Explore the Newseum
Learn about the freedom of speech and the evolution of communication at the Newseum. This enormous museum offers a huge array of exhibits on topics ranging from JFK to the Unabomber. Don’t miss the exciting Interactive Newsroom, where you can design a newspaper and sit behind a TV news desk.
13. Take a Boat Tour
Watch the city glide by aboard a boat tour of the Potomac River. For an elegant evening, opt for an Odyssey dinner cruise on a stunning glass-enclosed boat. If you’re bringing the kids, the DC Ducks tour is a great choice; little ones love the thrill as the company’s amphibious boats drive straight into the water.
14. Visit Washington D.C.’s Oldest House
Walk through a piece of history at the Old Stone House, D.C.’s oldest structure on its original foundation. The house, which was built in 1765, is a fascinating example of Pre-Revolutionary building methods and styles. Admission is free, and park rangers often run guided tours that are interesting for kids and adults.
15. Listen to Live Music at Blues Alley
Feel the presence of Wynton Marsalis and Dr. John at Blues Alley, one of D.C.’s most historic jazz supper clubs. This renowned spot reinforces its rules as a “listening club,” ensuring you can enjoy dinner and a performance undisturbed. With more than 300 performances a year by singers, instrumentalists, and combos, Blues Alley makes it easy to find a concert to suit your tastes.
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